G20 trade ministers fail on TRIPS waiver and COVID-19 response

photo: AFP

Last week’s G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting shows there is no agreement on a path forward for reform of the global economy and global trade rules.

Hope for sharing intellectual property and production capacity for vaccines and hope for reform of the WTO have been left in a vacuum, with vague statements and no agreement on urgent action.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fault lines of the world’s economy, fueled even greater inequality and revealed the weaknesses in global supply chains.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “The case for reforming the global trading system to better protect people and the planet is overwhelming and urgent. As the world talks of reform of global trade and investment, the choices are stark.

“The devastation for many millions of workers who have lost their incomes and livelihoods and cannot access vaccines means that trade ministers need to be at the forefront in driving change to the rules that govern the global system. Countries must work together to rebuild trust based on decent work, with human and labour rights as a floor for fair competition.”

TRIPS waiver

Discussions on trade at the G20 link to the upcoming WTO Ministerial Meeting in November. The G20 statement refers to enhancing global public health efforts but does not reference the necessary and urgent step of triggering the TRIPS waiver.

Unions worldwide support the TRIPS waiver, a temporary suspension of the rules on intellectual property that should apply to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests, in order to enable the ramping up of global vaccine production and the lowering of costs to ensure access for people across the world.

“Trade ministers have not addressed the social concerns that must underly real reform of the global economy, nor have they acknowledged the call to end the dehumanising nature of work in global supply chains.

“They need to show that they understand that human and labour rights matter. The widespread frustration that the global trading system has failed to deliver secure jobs, decent work and opportunities to overcome inequality and exclusion must not be ignored if global trade is to be trusted.

“Both the G20 and the WTO will be judged on whether they take action in 2021 to strengthen the foundation of economic recovery based on jobs, rights, fair wages and social protection,” said Sharan Burrow.

Pierre Habbard, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD, said: “This G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial covers a lot of ground related to the COVID-19 crisis, yet it misses and in fact ignores the employment dimension, the one that matters for the most vulnerable groups and for the middle class.

“This is another missed opportunity to map out the good policies to implement when confronted with international trade and investment opening, both internationally in treaty design, and domestically in employment, social and industrial policies.”

The G20 statement is here.